Top 10 2013: Volkswagen Golf GTI

Designing a car for a single purpose is relatively easy. With a sharp, specific focus, whether that’s the ability to go around corners fast, or climb rocks, or carry eight people, few compromises are involved in the layout or packaging, which is basically defined by the vehicle’s intended function.

Creating a car to do everything – well, almost everything – is impossible because some attributes are mutually incompatible, even if a Range Rover tries hard to prove me wrong. The greatest car, then, is the all-rounder, a jack-of-all-trades and master of none.

Behold the Volkswagen Golf GTI. Fast and frugal, practical, beautifully finished, well equipped and dynamically appealing, the latest GTI adds a welcome touch of real-world comfort to the equation. If I had to choose just one car to last for the next decade, this would most probably be it. Play sports car, via the superb 162kW third-generation EA888 engine, and the GTI combines fun with real performance. Its 0-400m time of 14.5 seconds is a match for any rival at remotely the same price, while the efficiency (6.2L/100km combined-cycle economy for the manual) is remarkable. A new level of chassis composure and effortless manners is also laid upon VW’s best car.

The interior oozes quality and feels as if it belongs to a German car of twice the price. If you don’t believe me, shut the door: the solid thunk defines the engineering integrity that characterizes Golf VII (and VW’s new MQB architecture).

That refinement, the supple, yet controlling suspension (courtesy of adaptive damping that really works), brilliant seats and a high-quality steering wheel ensure the GTI feels expensive from behind the wheel. The now-variable-ratio steering is super quick – 2.1 turns combined with a tight 10.9-metre turning circle – and transfers information without the intrusion of nasty torque steer. If I’m super critical, feel is vaguely artificial but the steering remains one of the best electric systems and a massive step over the old car.

We love the Golf GTI because, even with the raft of enhancements that elevate it to new levels of performance and finesse, at heart it remains a GTI. The GTI’s giant-killer role, achieved with utterly civilised composure, confirms this VW as all the car you’ll ever need. No wonder the GTI is expected to takes 20 percent of all Golf sales in Australia next year.

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